Best Substitutes for Old Bay Seasoning

If youre looking for an Old Bay Seasoning substitute that isnt merely acceptable but exceptional, you cant do better than Crab Boil seasoning, which has a nearly indistinguishable flavor profile and is used for the same general purpose.

Thats just one option, though. You have plenty of others, and any of them would make a welcome addition to a summer seafood salad, steaming platter of corn on the cob, or quick and dirty PoBoy.

Its a long list of herbs and spices that gives Old Bay Seasoning its unique flavor: celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mustard, and paprika, just to name a few (parent company McCormick claims a total of 18 mouthwatering components).

Each of the alternatives highlighted here features most of the same key ingredients as Old Bay and will therefore make a satisfactory stand-in for the O.G.

1. Crab Boil Seasoning

Of all the Old Bay Seasoning substitutes on this list, Crab Boil seasoning is without a doubt the closest available analog to the real deal.

This ubiquitous boiling water flavoring has a makeup thats 90% identical to that of Old Bay (possibly more, depending on the brand you go with), with salt, red pepper, mustard, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cardamom listed among its primary ingredients.

That degree of similarity isnt a coincidence, either like Old Bay, Crab Boil seasoning is frequently used to jazz up fresh catch and its accompanying items. In fact, its often packaged right along with crab legs or whole shrimp in handy-dandy seafood starter kits.

Because theres so much overlap between the two mixtures, you can keep things simple and swap out Crab Boil for Old Bay at a 1:1 ratio.

2. Cajun Seasoning

If youre not intimately acquainted with Cajun seasoning by now, you havent truly lived. Cajun seasoning is a wonderous all-purpose additive that has the rare gift of improving the taste of just about everything you could think to put it on without altering its basic character.

The majority of Cajun-themed seasonings consist of salt, black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, and chili powder. Its a little saltier than Old Bay and has a little more kick, as well, so youd be well-advised to cut back your proportions to about two-thirds of what the recipe youre following calls for.

It also has one major advantage over Crab Boil seasoning, which is that its in high supply everywhere you go. You have almost zero chance of finding a food store that doesnt carry some variety of cajun seasoning.

3. Pickling Spice

If you think pickling spice is just for making pickles, think again. This versatile mixture is well-suited for a wide range of potential applications, including putting the finishing touches on a pan-fried snapper or making New England-style popcorn.

Here again, youre looking at a lot of the same core constituents red pepper flakes, mustard seed, cloves, allspice, coriander, bay leaves, and so forth meaning youre going to end up with a flavor profile much like that of Old Bay.

That said, just as Cajun seasoning leans slightly towards heat, pickling spice leans slightly toward sweet. Feel free to use the same amount of pickling spice as you would Old Bay. Keep in mind, however, that you may also want to work in some celery salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper if you like your seafood with a healthy amount of zing.

4. Chinese Five Spice

Surprised to see Chinese Five Spice on a list of? Dont be. Pound-for-pound, its one of the most complete seasoning solutions ever invented. As such, it makes an ideal substitute for Old Bay Seasoning.

All the major flavor divisions are represented in this stripped-down assembly of essences: warm cinnamon, musky fennel seed, sweet cloves, and pungent star anise. The wild-card fifth spice can vary depending on whos doing the mixing, but it usually comes down to Szechuan peppercorns or white pepper to round things out with the necessary spicy, savory counterbalance.

As you can imagine, those make a pretty potent combination. Your best bet is to stay on the conservative side and use roughly two-thirds to three-quarters the amount of Five Spice for the prescribed quantity of Old Bay. We guarantee you wont mind the change of pace.

5. Seasoned Salt

Our final Old Bay substitute is the clutch option that youll find yourself reaching for if you dont have anything else on hand and the shelves at your local supermarket have been ransacked during the weekend rush.

The biggest strike against seasoned salt is that there are so many different kinds out there, and some are significantly better than others. Compared to Old Bay, Crab Boil, Cajun seasoning, or pickling spice, lackluster brands of seasoned salt tend to come up short in terms of complexity and depth of flavor. Regardless, it beats settling for plain old salt and pepper.

If you have the luxury of being choosy, look for a seasoned salt that packs power-players like celery salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and sugar for that all-important hint of sweetness. Its not a perfect equivalent, but a few pinches will certainly do in a pinch.

Frequently Asked Questions

With so much mysterious goodness crammed into one can, Old Bay Seasoning has a way of stimulating curiosity. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about the legendary spice blend and its ingredients and wealth of uses.

What is Old Bay Seasoning Made of?

Manufacturer McCormick keeps their proprietary Old Bay Seasoning recipe tightly under wraps.The official ingredients list mentions only salt, celery seed, black pepper, red pepper, and paprika, with the remaining falling under the decidedly ambiguous heading of spices.

Not to be deterred, some enterprising culinary aficionados have managed to suss out some of the other contributing flavors, which include mustard seed, white pepper, cardamom, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace, and bay leaves. Alas, the precise elements and proportions will remain a mystery at least for now.

What Does Old Bay Seasoning Taste Like?

Its hard to describe Old Bay Seasonings signature flavor with any kind of accuracy, but suffice it to say that its salty, spicy, smoky, aromatic, pungent, and just a wee bit sweet. In other words, it has something to offer even the pickiest set of taste buds.

Its so beloved that diehard users have been known to enjoy it in some pretty unorthodox ways, such as sprinkling it on watermelon, stirring it into homemade guacamole, spiking boiled peanuts with it, and serving it around the rims of Bloody Marys.

Are Cajun Seasoning and Old Bay Seasoning the Same Thing?

Not quite.

The two have quite a few ingredients in common, but whereas Cajun seasoning favors bold, zesty notes like cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and oregano, Old Bay sits on the sweet side of the spectrum.

Fragrant standouts like cloves, nutmeg, and allspice set it apart from everything else in the spice aisle.Subtle differences notwithstanding, fans of all things spicy may prefer the tongue-tingling intensity of a hardy Cajun or Creole seasoning.

What Do You Use Old Bay Seasoning for?

A better question would be, What cant you use Old Bay Seasoning for?

When Old Bays was invented way back in 1939, it was intended to serve as a convenient shake-on flavor enhancer for seafood, particularly shrimp and crab. Since then, its accumulated an astounding array of auxiliary uses, enough to practically make your head spin.

Old Bay Seasoning routinely makes appearances in recipes for soups, stews, dips, spreads, snacks, sauces, marinades, doughs, batters, and even beverages.

Does Old Bay Seasoning Have MSG?

Those with food allergies, dietary restrictions, and picky palettes will be pleased to learn that there is no MSG whatsoever in Old Bay Seasoning.

The only thing you may need to be wary of is the salt content, which may threaten to put you out of bounds if youre on a special diet or are trying to watch your sodium intake. Assuming thats the case, we recommend reducing the amount of seasoning you use somewhat and avoiding adding extra salt to your finished dishes.

Aside from that, Old Bay is calorie-free, gluten-free, keto-friendly, and kosher, on top of being totally delicious. What more could you ask for?

More Herbs & Spices Substitutes:

  • Turmeric Substitutes
  • Calabrian Chili Substitutes


What is a substitute for Old Bay lemon and herb?

Celery salt and sweet paprika make a surprisingly good substitute for Old Bay. Mix the following to create four teaspoons of Old Bay Seasoning substitute: 2 teaspoon celery salt. 2 teaspoons paprika.

Can I use Cajun seasoning instead of Old Bay?

While it won’t provide the same complex range of flavors, Cajun seasoning can stand in for Old Bay seasoning in any of Old Bay’s more traditional applications, such as in seafood boils and in the breading for fried fish. Note that Cajun seasoning only works as an Old Bay substitute if you are okay with the extra heat.

What is the main flavor of Old Bay Seasoning?

Old Bay Seasoning tastes like a cajun seasoning that’s heavy on paprika with hints of mustard, celery salt, and nutmeg. What exactly is this? What is the primary taste of Old Bay Seasoning? The main flavors of old bay seasoning are salt, celery seed, and garlic with a little sweetness.

What does Old Bay seasoning contain?

The unique blend of spices includes (but is not limited to): celery seed, paprika, mustard, salt, red pepper, and black pepper.

What herb can I use instead of bay?

If you have these following herbs sitting in your kitchen cabinet, it can act as an alternative for bay leaf.
Best Bay Leaf Substitutes. Best bets: Thyme or Oregano.
Thyme. Oregano.
Juniper Berries.
Buy Better Bay Leaves.

What’s the difference between Old Bay and Cajun seasoning?

Cajun seasoning tends to lean spicier with the peppers, while Old Bay seasoning tends to lean a little more salty with the celery salt. The Culinary Compass participates in several different affiliate programs.

Which is spicier Old Bay Seasoning or Cajun seasoning?

Cajun seasoning delivers more heat

Cajun seasoning blends usually have more significant amounts of red pepper than Old Bay, so the mix is generally spicier (via PepperScale). Gimme Some Oven says that the common ingredients in the savory, earthy seasoning include cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, and oregano.

Can you sub creole seasoning for Old Bay?

Creole seasoning can also be a good Old Bay substitute if needed. What exactly is this? Cajun seasoning blends are also a good alternative to Creole seasoning if you’re looking for a more comparable flavor profile and have that in your spice cabinet.

Why is it called Old Bay Seasoning?

Old Bay, a blend of 18 spices, was invented by German refugee Gustav Brunn who came to Maryland in 1939. The spice was named after a ship line of the Chesapeake Bay and quickly grew to be very popular later during the later 20th century. McCormick & Company bought the spice in 1990 and distributed it across the state.

Does Old Bay taste like celery?

How does Old Bay Seasoning taste? It has layers of complex flavors, and while the celery seed flavor is obvious, you can also taste the sweetness of paprika with a kick of cayenne and the warmth of cinnamon.

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